The days of eating like a king without gaining a pound, not knowing the difference between a barbell and a dumbbell, and mocking the gym bros you’re envious of are officially over.
It’s time to turn that skin-and-bones body in to a ripped, chiseled physique with a six-pack, bulging biceps, and a wide V-taper.
You may not have the same problems as someone who’s overweight… but you still wouldn’t call yourself “ripped”.
But honestly, how long does it really take to transform from a basic skinny dude into a ripped god?
This article will explain how long it takes to get ripped from skinny (and what it takes to shed that scrawny physique and mentality for good).
Table of Contents
- What Do We Mean by a “Ripped” Physique?
- How Much Muscle Can a Skinny Guy Gain & How Fast?
- Maximum Muscle Does NOT Equal Ripped
- Not All Weight Gain Is Muscle Mass
- Getting Ripped Also Means Shedding Fat (Eventually)
- How Long Does It Take to See Some Results?
- Can Skinny Guys Get Abs?
- How to Get From Skinny to Ripped
- Avoid or Limit Cardio Until It’s Time to Cut
- Really … How Long Does It Take to Get Ripped From Skinny?
What Do We Mean by a “Ripped” Physique?
A ripped physique is eye-catchingly aesthetic. Typically, being “ripped” means having low body fat (usually around 10%), dense muscle, veins popping through swollen arms, six-pack abs, a wide V-taper, the clear definition between muscles, and an impressively large upper body.
For the Skinny Guy Club members ready to leave that lifestyle behind forever, a ripped physique requires two things: keeping your body fat reasonably low and fighting your relentlessly fast metabolism to build visibly dense, defined muscle.
How Much Muscle Can a Skinny Guy Gain & How Fast?
If you’re skinny by choice (or because you never actively tried to build muscle), good news — we don’t call ‘em the newbie gains for anything. Beginners are much more sensitive to both training and muscle growth.
A 2015 literature review discovered that muscle protein synthesis in newbies peaks 20 hours post-training, last 48 hours, and is three times higher than in trained men. Additional research from ’08 links superset training in noobs to higher anabolic (tissue-building) hormone production.
But just how much muscle can you pack on in your first year? Some might try to convince you that you can get ripped in just 90 days.
Welp, here’s what the leading voices in the fitness industry seem to think:
Physiologist Lyle McDonald has his own theory called the “McDonald Model for Genetic Muscular Potential.” He predicts that the average guy can pack on about 40–50 pounds of lean mass in his lifetime with consistent training and proper nutrition (though the results will vary).
By McDonald’s standards, in that first real year of legitimate training, the typical dude can gain 20–25 pounds of pure muscle mass — or about 1.5–2 pounds of muscle per month.
Unfortunately, the gains shrink by about half with each passing year as those glorious noob gains burn out and you slowly approach your genetic muscular potential:
- Year one: 20–25 pounds
- Year two: 10–12 pounds
- Year three: 5–6 pounds
- Year four: 2–3 pounds
Lyle’s model puts the guesstimated timeframe from skinny to huge at 36–48 months — if your idea of “ripped” is having traps that touch your ears and biceps that bust through sleeve seams.
Natural bodybuilder Casey Butt has his own formula to calculate max muscle mass based on four data points — height, ankle size, wrist size, and body fat. (The real-life “Hercules,” Steve Reeves, also used similar measurements to map out his still-infamous “classic physique.”)
Based on Butt’s formula, a guy who’s 5’10”, weighs 140 pounds, and has 10% body fat with 7-inch wrists and 9-inch ankles could realistically gain another 44.3 pounds of muscle. Combining that with McDonald’s predictions, we wind up with a similar 3–4-year timeframe.
Check out the unofficial calculator at Legion Athletics.
Maximum Muscle Does NOT Equal Ripped
Three to four years is an insanely long time to obsessively train, eat healthily, and load up on supplements. But while pre-competition bodybuilders are — without a doubt — ripped to the core, most guys consider a moderately muscular, low-fat physique to fit the definition of ripped.
Two years of consistent, strategic weight training and dieting should be enough to pack on about 30-ish pounds of pure lean mass and build a physique rivaling that of the Hollywood Chrises: Pratt, Hemsworth, Pine, and Evans (just definitely not that d-bag Chris Brown).
But we’ll account for genetics and other training factors and readjust that to 1.5–3 years.
Not All Weight Gain Is Muscle Mass
It’s not necessarily easier for skinny guys to build muscle than it is for anyone else. Everyone is going to have some obstacles.
Even if you’re clean (or lean) bulking and eating a dietician-designed balanced diet, gaining some fat mass is inevitable when you intentionally pack on extra weight. That fact alone lands us right into the hands of a study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics in 2019.
This particular study analyzed the type of mass intermediate athletes gained while following a four-week bulking program. One group gained a single pound per week, while the other upped the ante by doubling that to two pounds a week.
Both groups ended the four-week study with more muscle and fat. However, while the aggressive-bulking group gained far more muscle mass in poundage, the slow-and-steady group walked away with a lower percentage of body fat gained — 80% muscle and 20% fat.
What does that mean for you?
If your goal is to gain 30 pounds of muscle to get ripped gradually, you’ll need to gain at least 37.5 pounds to account for unavoidable fat mass. However, it’s not unusual for weight gain to be evenly split between muscle and fat mass, especially for dirty bulkers.
Getting Ripped Also Means Shedding Fat (Eventually)
Ten percent body fat (give or take a few percentage points) is typically where a ripped physique is at its peak. That means, somewhere along the way, you’ll need to switch from a lean bulk to a cut to strip away excess body fat and uncover muscle definition and vascularity.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but that pushes the two-year (or more realistic 1.5–3-year) “ripped” goal back just a little bit further.
The CDC, Mayo Clinic, and Healthline all agree that about 1–2 pounds of weight loss per week are generally safe — assuming you’re not crash-dieting. Now, if we figure 20–50% of weight gain is pure fat, the average skinny guy will gain 7.5–30 pounds of fat while bulking.
To get back to your pre-bulk, skinny-boy body fat percentage, the cutting phase could last as little as a month or as long as 30 weeks (or nearly eight months). Like bulking, that really depends on how aggressively you’re willing to cut or how quickly you want to melt the fat.
That recalibrates our skinny-to-ripped time capsule to 1.58–3.58 years. But 1.5–2 years is a realistic goal if you’re 100% committed to building a ripped physique.
How Long Does It Take to See Some Results?
It’s only human nature to be a quitter (no, really). Not only do 95% of people fall off their diets permanently, but the average New Years’ Resolution is abandoned by January 19th.
Our Magic Eight Ball is broken, but the answer — based on science — is “not quite!”
One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2010 followed eight participants through three months of isometric knee training. Significant changes in muscle cross-sectional area were visible near the end of the three-month study.
Additional research from 2017 proves that slight changes in muscle hypertrophy could be detectable in as little as four weeks with consistent, twice-a-week training.
If you can fight through the slow progress in the first few weeks and months, you’ll be riding the high to Ripped Town for the next year or two (or three).
Can Skinny Guys Get Abs?
Skinny guys can get abs. But skinny-fat guys won’t see the rectus abdominis or oblique muscles poking through that fatty layer until they slim down to <12% body fat (or 10%, ideally) and intentionally target the core muscles for growth.
A rail-thin skinny guy may naturally have a six-pack if he’s a competitive athlete or squeezes in a few calisthenics workouts per week — loaded with sit-ups, crunches, planks, and leg raise. Yet, most skinny guys will have smaller, less visible ab muscles if untrained.
How to Get From Skinny to Ripped
None of that (*gestures vaguely at literally everything above*) matters if you’re half-assing your training, diet, supplements, or any mix of three. To get from skinny to rip without entering skinny fat territory or going to the opposite extreme (overweight), follow these nine tips:
Monitor Your Progress
Dare we say, tracking your progress is even more important than anything discussed in this article? The human body naturally uses protein to rebuild muscle and burns fat in a caloric deficit — but genetics and other factors influence how your body responds to changes.
A 500-calorie-per-day surplus may not budge the scale, while you may quickly discover more muscle growth and PR upticks with a PPL (push-pull-legs) routine than an upper-lower split.
On your journey from skinny to ripped, track your progress with:
- Skinfold calipers to monitor your body fat percentage
- Fitness apps like JEFIT or even an Excel Spreadsheet to track 1RMs, weights, and reps
- Caloric and macronutrient intake with diet-tracking apps like MyFitnessPal
- A bathroom scale to track weight gain from week to week
Then, make small tweaks as you see fit and as your body adapts to the program. Just don’t forget to give yourself a 4–12-week buffer period to see results kick in before blaming genetics.
Eat-in a Caloric Surplus
Unless your appetite is abnormally low, you’re skinny because your metabolism burns calories faster than you can consume them (the ectomorph curse). Eating in a surplus will create a positive energy balance to gain weight at a steady, healthy pace while limiting fat.
But how many extra calories per day should you eat?
There are two approaches to clean-bulking: calculating your TDEE and bumping it up 10–20% or increasing your daily calories by a flat number — like 250–500. No matter which method you choose, keep it simple and avoid anything more than a 500-calorie surplus.
Many online sources also suggest that the body needs about 2,800 calories to build a pound of dense muscle. Yet, the body will naturally add both lean and fat mass in a surplus, and a 2,800-calorie surplus per week doesn’t always equal a pound of new muscle.
Try a Clean Bulk (Instead of a Dirty Bulk)
Clean bulking isn’t only healthier for your entire body. It can also cut the time to getting ripped by several months (remember that aggressive bulking study we talked about earlier?).
A clean — or lean — bulk revolves around eating healthy, nutrient-dense, low-fat foods. So on top of stocking your pantry and refrigerator full of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, lean proteins, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, and low-fat or skim milk, you’ll also avoid:
- Processed foods
- Fried foods
- Junk food (cookies, candy, burgers, fries)
- Sugary sweets
- Full-fat dairy
- Refined grains (like white rice)
Healthier food tends to be less calorie-dense than the classic dirty-bulk options. Yet, chicken, nut butter, trail mix, avocado, and salmon are decently high in calories and healthy choices.
Eat More Frequent, Smaller Meals
Myth-busted: According to one 1997 review, smaller, more frequent meals aren’t any better for weight loss or metabolism than three square meals per day. However, if you’re an ectomorph with a weak appetite, spaced-out, small meals are easier to scarf down without gorging yourself.
Five meals per day — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks — separated by about three hours and near-evenly split between your macros and calories will keep you on a steady pace.
Load Up on the Right Macronutrients
The body desperately needs all three macronutrients — fats, carbohydrates, and proteins — to perform day-to-day survival tasks, fuel workouts, and repair the muscles post-workout.
How many grams of proteins, carbs, and fats should you eat each day?
According to a 2004 review analyzing the classic bodybuilding diet both pre-competition and in the off-season, getting 25–30% of your calories from protein, 55–60% from carbohydrates, and 15–20% from fats can keep body fat low while boosting muscle mass.
Add Supplements to Your Routine
Nope, no “magic bullet” pill or powder will turn you from a skinny dude into a completely ripped god. That said, creatine, protein, and mass gainers are three of the most effective sports supplements for reluctant members of the Skinny Guy Club.
Creatine is widely regarded as one of the best supplements for increasing 1RMs, recovery time, lifting performance, strength, and size. This 5g/day amino acid supplement also forces the muscles to absorb water, which can create an ultra-quick swollen-muscle appearance.
Protein powder is extremely reliable for hitting both calorie and protein goals, especially while you’re bulking on a normally weak appetite. Studies also connect 50g of supplement protein to increased 1RMs and power when combined with an otherwise protein-heavy diet (1.2g/kg).
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Mass gainers (or weight gainers) are more of a last resort if you’re full and can’t stomach (literally) eating another meal before bed. Loaded with 500–1,500 calories per shake, these calorie-rich and protein-loaded supplements can replace a meal or two in a pinch.
Start a High-Volume Hypertrophy Training Program
Second, to the right nutritional balance, the next important piece of the “ripped” puzzle is a high-volume, hypertrophy training program to trick your muscles into rapid growth.
A full-body or upper-lower routine with the following components can help you build lean mass efficiently without the risk of overtraining as a newbie, according to a 2019 review:
- 3 sets per exercise
- 10 reps per set
- 60 seconds of rest between sets
- 70% 1RM
- 20 sets per muscle group per week
- 72 hours of rest between workouts
As you build foundational strength, master perfect form, and add visible size, you can increase your frequency, double the sets per exercise, and increase the 1RM intensity to 80%.
If you’re too lazy to DIY your own routine, you can also try a premade routine, like our How to Be Both Skinny and Ripped routine
Focus on Both Compound & Isolation Lifts
Getting ripped is as much about the major muscles — the chest, back, quads, and hamstrings — as it is the smaller muscles — the abs, calves, shoulders, biceps, and triceps.
While routines like StrongLifts 5×5 can catapult your deadlift, squat, and bench to new extremes while building lean mass, don’t forget that a ripped physique also includes:
- Bulging biceps
- Horseshoe-shaped triceps
- Thick forearms
- Visible traps
- A wide V-taper (lats)
- Rounded shoulders
- Not-scrawny calves
- A six-pack
Exercises like preacher curls, cable pushdowns, standing calf raise, lateral raises, and weighted crunches are just as important as the five major lifts.
Avoid or Limit Cardio Until It’s Time to Cut
If you’re a former cross-country runner or love endurance training, this is going to be a toughie. But for most of our readers, we just heard the collective sigh of relief — try to limit cardio!
Cardio will only burn calories and either push you into a caloric deficit or potentially slow your lean gains. Therefore, skip the bike, StairMaster, elliptical, and treadmill until it’s finally time to cut and uncover your true ripped physique potential.
When that time comes, make sure you avoid cardio before lifting and limit your cardio to three 20–30-minute sessions per week to limit muscle loss.
Really … How Long Does It Take to Get Ripped From Skinny?
That depends. Are you 100% dedicated to eating clean and healthy foods, spending a considerable amount of time in the gym, and adding supplements to your routine?
If so, getting ripped from skinny should take a year and a half to three years (on the low end).
But it also depends on your definition of “ripped.” If you simply wanted to maximize your genetic muscle potential, the projected time frame is much closer to three or four years (plus any time needed for a cut).